This year we’ll be adding a new member to our family of two adults and two cats. Having gone through introducing a new cat to the family about a year ago, I wanted to be prepared for this upcoming change and get a head start as soon as possible. The first thing to point out is that cats and new babies do not have to be at odds. Gone are the days where the old obstetricians will tell you that cats and newborns can’t live together. That being said, here are a few useful tips for introducing cat to baby and making the situation easier and more pleasant for everyone.
- Sort out the litter box situation
The main concern with cats and pregnancy is toxoplasmosis. However, toxoplasmosis is not that common among indoor adult cats. Kittens very often carry toxoplasmosis so your pregnancy is not a good time to get a new kitten. If your cat is an outdoor one, consider keeping it indoors if possible.
Toxoplasmosis develops in the cat’s feces after 1-3 days, so the litter box should be cleaned on a daily basis. Ask a family member to clean the kitty litter or wear gloves if you have to do it yourself. Avoid contact with the litter by using a handheld vacuum to clean up any litter outside the litter box. To keep things clean and tidy, choose a strategic spot for the litter box – it should be away from the nursery and any common areas. Switch to a closed litter box to limit the amount of cat litter that gets spread around.
- Get kitty used to the new smells
Start using the baby powder or lotion you plan on using for the baby a month or so prior to the introduction. This will help your cat get accustomed to the smell. He will start associating the smell with you, which will ease the baby introduction.
- Introduce your cat to baby sounds
When I first tried playing a YouTube recoding of a baby noise for my cat, she freaked out. The sound of a crying baby is similar to that of a cat in distress, so you kitty can get nervous when hearing it for the first time. Start playing short clips of babies crying at a low volume. Just a couple of minutes is enough to start getting your cat acclimated. Gradually increase the volume and the duration of these recordings. Also, reward your cat with treats, so these otherwise unpleasant sounds are associated with a positive experience.
- Gradually introduce changes in your home
At this time, you are probably buying a whole bunch of fun baby stuff and setting up the nursery. Introduce new things gradually to avoid stressing out your cat. Let him smell and explore all the new goodies you are bringing home. That way he will get used to these changes in advance, which will ease the baby transition later on.
- Create plenty of quiet hiding spots for your cat
A cat’s usual reaction to a shrieking baby will be fear. In such situations cats tend to look for quiet hiding spots in their environment. Set up in advance plenty of hiding spaces, such as cat tunnels, cat beds, or boxes. This will allow your cat to quickly retreat to his comfort zone if distressed.
- Supervise initial interactions
Once you bring baby home, keep a close eye on your cat’s reactions around the baby. Watch out for signs of distress, such as puffy fur or an arched back. IF you see any of these giveaways, separate cat and baby until the cat calms down.
- Keep your cat out of the crib
In the beginning, your newborn will not be able to turn or move around, so you want to make sure that her crib is a safe environment. This means no jumping cats. Securing the crib is especially important in the beginning as your cat will still be confused by the new addition to your family. A lot of sources suggest closing the nursery or using a screen door. None of these really worked for me – I did not want to close the cats out of our bedroom – they would only meow all night and get stressed out. At the same time, I wanted to keep baby close to us. So, I used a screened crib tent instead. It worked quite well in preventing the cats from invading the crib.
- Stick to your cat’s schedule
By now you probably have a set routine you follow with your cat – regular feeding times, play times, and litter cleanup times. Try to keep this schedule intact. If it does not work well with the overwhelming number of tasks that come with a newborn, start changing the schedule gradually a couple of months prior to the introduction. This will give your cat time to get used to the new schedule.
If your cat gets comfortable enough to nap close to the baby and walks around it with a curled-up tail, congratulations! You have been successful at introducing cat to baby! Don’t get discouraged if it takes weeks and even months though – cats are creatures of habit after all!